REVIEW: The Station Agent [2003]

Score: 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½

Rating: R | Runtime: 89 minutes | Release Date: October 3rd, 2003 (USA)
Studio: Miramax Films
Director(s): Thomas McCarthy
Writer(s): Thomas McCarthy

“Would you mind not looking at me right now?”

Actor Thomas McCarthy is quite the paradox. The man has a face full of smugness and unchecked attitude, making him ideal for intelligent, arrogant jerks. Maybe jerk is too strong a word since he also has the capacity for remorse, but I do find it apt after just recently seeing him become one of the most amoral characters on the HBO series “The Wire”. What makes him a paradox, however, is his foray into writing and directing. For some reason—perhaps because of his usual choice of roles—he has found a niche for crafting some of the most sweetly tragic and hopeful tales of the past decade. His sophomore effort, The Visitor, although unfortunately hindered by preaching at the end, is a fantastic gem that not only allows Richard Jenkins a long-awaited chance to shine, but really digs into the emotional center of its characters and shows their journey with love, caring, and understanding.

With his newest, Win Win, about to release, I needed to finally catch up with his debut, The Station Agent. What an auspicious start to hopefully a long and fruitful career behind the camera. Showcasing the diminutive Peter Dinklage as its star Fin McBride, you forget that it also helped bring about Patricia Clarkson’s stellar decade of top-notch work, not to mention having what’s easily Bobby Cannavale’s best turn to date. No matter those last two, or the wonderful cast spanning faces who have sadly disappeared to obscurity—SubUrbia’s Jayce Bartok—faces who may finally be breaking free from the need for auditions—funnyman Jo Lo Truglio and the wittily dramatic John Slattery—and more, this is Dinklage’s show and he proves how capable he is to deserve such a huge spotlight. The guy is quite simply one of the finest actors working today and it’s a shame he is often relegated to roles making him the butt of a joke or fantasy/mythological parts catered to his size. His Fin runs the gamut of emotion and expresses so much with so little being he is all but a hermit looking for solitude.

Years of mental and emotional anguish having grown up a dwarf are, for the most part, finally pushed deep enough to either be forgotten or ignored. Fin’s ability to ignore the environment around him, mostly populated with whispers, snickering, or blatantly mean-spirited barbs, has been cultivated to the point where all noise appears ambient as he wanders the streets to fulfill his purpose and come back to the quiet of home. A train fanatic—it’s weird calling him such since his personality is so subdued, but there is no better word for his love of the locomotive—his job at a model train store in Hoboken abruptly ceases to be once boss and friend Henry suddenly passes. Being called into the lawyer’s office to receive some kind of inheritance, his first thought is that the store would be his to run and enjoy. The truth of the matter, though, is the building had already been sold and the product on the shelves would soon be liquidated. Henry knew Fin better than anyone and he knew he’d be better off having a plot of land in the isolated town of Newfoundland, NJ.

An abandoned train depot awaits his arrival after the long trek by foot. Never having learned to drive and weary of letting people close enough to offer a ride or even attempt a trip with the public for risk of ridicule, Fin gets around by walking everywhere. With an empty train positioned next door and a working line to run past every evening for his joy of the speed, sound, and feel of trains rushing by, the land is perfect for his means of living. But hopes of a quiet retirement away from humanity don’t last long. The one thing Fin didn’t count on was that sleepy, sparsely populated towns often contain the type of people whose life goal is making friends. His introduction to both Joe (Cannavale) and Olivia (Clarkson) may not be the most conventional—he works a coffee car right out the depot’s window and she accidentally runs him off the road twice in one day—their relationship together is a slow burn to one of mutual respect and genuine compassion. The trio all brings baggage to the table, but none ever hold it against the others as they laugh together with ease.

Their bond is one of kinship, possessing the capacity to enjoy each other for who they are, not what they are or what has happened to them. The road is rocky and the dramatics are equally authentic, tragic, and able to hold hope for redemption. Theirs is a charming comradery thought impossible at the start. Dinklage is a master at portraying a desire to be left alone with a face unable to hide his empathetic ear to hear another’s troubles. He is the outsider and thus the newcomer to be told dark secrets of lives not trusted to more familiar residents. Joe resents his father, Olivia has never gotten over the loss of her young son, and Michelle Williams’s Emily doesn’t know what to do after finding she’s pregnant by a man she may not love. But while Fin is confided in with their psychological chaos, it is he who must open up and find there are those in this world who can and want to care for him. He isn’t a novelty to Joe, a stand-in son for Olivia, or a conquest for Emily, he is merely a kindhearted soul worth getting to know. And the true success of The Station Agent is Dinklage’s Fin finding out this fact himself. The others already knew.

[1] Michelle Williams and Peter Dinklage in The Station Agent
[2] Patricia Clarkson and Bobby Cannavale in The Station Agent
[3] Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson and Bobby Cannavale in The Station Agent

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